India

Urbanisation or Ghettoisation

Sankar Ray

The country’s emerging metropolises are nothing but middle class ghettos. Driven by property developers, these urban hells lack basic facilities or infrastructure

 
Julien Bouissou’s commentary , Middle class ghettos’ spreading in India in Le Monde, the premier daily in Paris is a sarcastic description of disturbingly sprawling Gurgaon model which Bouissou rightly says, “symbolizes the new urbanization of India, led by property developers without any planning and public governance”. And that’s the new India in its dazzling advent. “archetypal of the new middle class ghettos sprouting all over the country: a disorganized gated community of luxury condos, shopping malls and golf courses that’s missing basic infrastructure and public spaces”.

Contrast this to the other and the real India, dwarfed by the agony of what Andre Gunder Frank theorized as ‘development of underdevelopment. Former New York Times and self-taught Gandhi scholar Joseph Lelyveld in his seminal work Great Soul : Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle in India quotes a UN survey report, “55 per cent of the population still defecates out of doors” . The Union minister for sports Ajay Maken disclosed that 19 notices were issued to the management of India Premier League and the Board Of Control For Cricket In India for violating Foreign Exchange Management Act to the tune of Rs 1,077 crores but all this may be fruitless as a monetary fixer and a Congress MP – journalist by profession – on the top brass of BBCI and mediating between the BCCI and IPL to take care of the latter. These strange personalities do not care for 67 per cent Indians, Lelyveld records, are denied access to ‘improved sanitation’.

Middle class ghettos that have grown in all the metropolitan cities and their surroundings are reflections of burgeoning spread of ‘crony capitalism’ that perfectly catches up with the economically detrimental reform, imposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, bucked up by the World Trade Organization.

There is a dazzling exterior but a debilitating interior has the potential to turn all this into a mammoth mockery, the French journalist illustrates poignantly, In 30 years, the population of satellite town of Gurgaon in the National Capital Region grew with 1.5 million settlers in posh houses and apartments, with air-conditioned shopping malls around. Apparently, the dwellers have a feel of bliss out of escape from the congested Indian capital. But Delhi ka laddu syndrome remains. Le Monde feature states in a cautionary tone, “In the subterranean of Gurgaon, a catastrophe is about to happen. With over 30,000 illegal wells, the ground-water level is decreasing at an alarming pace, by about one meter each year. Water tables are also contaminated by the infiltration of untreated wastewater stagnating in hidden sight.” She quotes a study by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, “The city is drowning in its excreta,” preparing the backdrop for “an outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera” anytime. .She goes on in her expose about false development , “Gurgaon is now facing the same problems as a slum. Roads are full of potholes; the electricity works intermittently and there are no pavements- and would be the point of having them anyway? The city doesn’t have a single public park, only vast shopping malls surrounded by car parks.”

The reflex of luxurious downtown is visibility of golf courses around. They were built in a calculated craze. Golf courses cause depression of water level in groundwater aquifers, repeatedly pointed out by hydro-geologists. But developers, quick-buck makers and engineers call the shots drowning warnings from environmentalists. ” It’s engineers’ racket”, says Prof Sunil Munshi, the nonagenarian doyen among geographers.

But the village Chakarpur, laments Bouissou after a visit, Not far from there, in the village of Chakarpur, there has “neither swimming pool nor golf course. The only sport for residents is waiting for the electricity to arrive, so they can pump water from the underground tables. Because cheap labor is necessary to supply gated communities with chauffeurs and servants, Chakarpur was spared by property developers. The help live here, crammed in tiny windowless rooms.”

But the ruination is apace and unpreventable, The McKinsey management consulting firm, foresees 68 cities with more than one million inhabitants in India by 2030 with around $ 1.2 trillion investment in infrastructure development. ‘Humanity’, said William Faulkner in his speech in receiving the Nobel Prize in literature in the 1960s, ” has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion.” The pathetic synonym for confusion is perishing.

(The article was first published in The Sopan Step)

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